ARLINGTON, Va. – Bruce Boudreau thinks the Washington Capitals made the “right decision” in firing him—and he didn’t blame his dismissal on Alex Ovechkin.
And, yes, he watched the Capitals’ first game without him, a 2-1 loss under new coach Dale Hunter.
“I was nervous,” Boudreau said. “You can be fired, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings for the players, and all of the players there you get to know so well, you want them to do well. I still think they’re a great team and they’re going to do well, and Dale’s going to do well. He’s a good man. You’re nervous for them because you want to see them succeed.”
But surprisingly, Boudreau wasn’t out of work for long as he was hired late Wednesday night by the Anaheim Ducks, who fired coach Randy Carlyle after a win that snapped a seven-game skid.
Having had two days to digest the fact that his former boss no longer wanted him, Boudreau made his first public comments since his firing in a round of interviews Wednesday. Even though he made the Capitals a perennial success over four years—winning 200 games faster than any coach in NHL history—he found his team in a tailspin and was let go Monday morning by general manager George McPhee, who said the players “were no longer responding” to their coach.
“It’s like George said, sometimes you need a different voice, and for whatever reason it didn’t work out in the end,” Boudreau said. “And I think they made a decision that was the right decision at the time, and we’ll just move on.”
Boudreau led the Capitals to four consecutive division titles but couldn’t find sustained success in the playoffs, failing to advance beyond the second round. His attempt to instil more accountability this season backfired—Washington was not only losing, the losses were becoming humiliating. Change was all but inevitable.
“Gee, every time we lost two in a row for the last year, people were saying it was going to be coming,” Boudreau said. “You never think it was going to be coming, but we lost some games in the recent weeks by scores that we were not accustomed to. That hadn’t happened to us ever before, so I didn’t know where we were at or what was going to happen, but it wasn’t fun.”
Boudreau’s approach failed to reinvigorate team captain Ovechkin, who was coming off a career-worst season and was off to a slow start this fall. The two-time league MVP was benched in the crucial final shifts of regulation in a game against the Ducks on Nov. 1, although both coach and player quickly downplayed any kind of rift.
“I don’t believe Alex was ever a problem,” Boudreau said Wednesday. “I think he worked as hard and tried as hard as he could. I think it just didn’t go well statistically for him, and when things don’t go well statistically people try to put two and two together and they usually end up with five.”
Boudreau said he “never once” brought up the idea of removing Ovechkin as captain.
Boudreau is the epitome of a hockey lifer. He joked that other than visiting his mother, he didn’t know what to do with himself. Now he knows, as he is expected to be introduced by the Ducks on Thursday and conduct practice.
“Hey, we’re all big boys,” he said. “We all know what we’re getting into, and we know what the shelf life is, we know what can happen, and it’s not like we don’t think (getting fired) can happen. You don’t want it to happen, but it happens.”
Despite the disappointing results in the post-season, Boudreau’s tenure has to be judged as a success, but he considers it more so because of the growth of the fan base than the won-loss record.
“The success part is the growing of hockey in the D.C. area from 5,000 people a game when I got here to the team getting good and this becoming a hockey town and having a waiting list for season tickets,” he said. “All of those things really is the successful part and the most important part. I think the growth of hockey is what I’m really happy about.”